Addressing declining crop yields in Kenya through development of soil management technologies: Does more research mean delayed adoption?

by Anne Muriuki, Kenya, ELP 2013


For most countries in Sub Saharan Africa, Kenya included, agriculture will continue to be the bedrock for economic growth for a considerable period of time. The sector provides livelihood to the majority of the population, most of who live in rural areas.

The agriculture sector in Kenya is driven by smallholder farmers who produce 75% of the total agricultural output on small pieces of land, usually less than one hectare. However, farmers face many challenges, including unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change, declining soil fertility arising from continuous cropping of the land without adequate nutrient replenishment while massive soil loss through erosion can lead to land degradation. Rapid population growth on the other hand continues to strain the economic wellbeing of many who depend on agriculture to make a living. Nevertheless, where farmers apply manure and recommended fertilizers, control weeds, pests and diseases in good time and use improved seeds, yields are usually high; but majority do not, so yields are low on average.

In their quest to make a difference, many organizations –both public and private have over the past two decades responded to the plight of the rural poor by donating enormous resources in time, and capital (financial and human) to develop soil management technologies for smallholder farmers. Field experiments show that yields can be increased significantly when these technologies are applied appropriately, but farmers seldom adopt them. Underlying the slow adoption is the disjointed manner in which messages relating to the same enterprise are conveyed; a situation which arises from the ‘silo’ type environment in which the technologies are developed. These silo environments typically usually ignore the complex environment in which farmers work. For example, fertilizer recommendations in a mixed farm setting may not take into consideration the complementary nature of fertilizers and manure as nutrient sources for plants. As a result, the recommendations given may advocate for fertilizer use only, whereas it would be more prudent to give the recommendation based on manure requirement because that is the resource that is most readily available to farmers.

Other factors contributing to non-adoption of fertilizers and other soil management technologies include high cost, inaccessibility and inapplicability of recommendations over wide areas, the latter due to within-farm soil fertility variation. As if not enough, developers of these technologies often duplicate efforts because collaboration with players along the value chain such as between farmers, extension, credit providers, input providers, manufacturers and researchers is wanting.

To correct the situation, there is need for a stakeholder forum which acts as a clearing house for soil management technologies. The forum should comprise of key stakeholders along the value chain. Such a forum would be useful in overseeing the harmonization of existing recommendations into unified ones, the packaging of messages according to target group, for example farmers, scholars, extension, policy makers, private sector etc; and the dissemination of the information to end users in a variety of ways (mass media, blogs, brochures, fliers, policy briefs, manuals, posters, etc). This approach is envisaged to result in greater awareness and collaboration among actors and increased support to farmers. Farmers on the other hand will be exposed to less confusing and more adoptable extension messages. As more farmers adopt the harmonized soil management technologies, crop yields will increase, thereby positively impacting on the country’s economic growth.

So will more soil management research in Kenya result in delayed farmer adoption? I think so! What do you think?